1971 Stanley Cup Final - Game 7 - Montreal at Chicago
In North American professional sports, it’s hard to beat a playoff series Game 7 for intensity and drama. Each sport has its own unique Game 7 feeling but the way hockey transitions from offense to defense in the blink of an eye makes it the most riveting experience for many fans, including me.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve cared little for either team in a series but I had to watch the full Game 7 just to see what might happen. This year’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs first round has produced two Game 7s scheduled to be played Tuesday night (4/28).
The Rangers will visit Washington and New Jersey plays host to Carolina.
Hockey playoffs often produce early round upsets and the visitors in each matchup this season have a chance to do just that. Frequently, upstarts in hockey ride the skill of a goaltender on a hot streak, somebody who’s standing on his head as they say. Or, a third line forward may suddenly start scoring like he’s Wayne Gretzky in disguise. Or, sometimes all the special team units come up big, killing penalties, and scoring power play goals, or just a center who wins every single key face-off from the start of the game right down to the final horn. By the time teams get to a Game 7, the series victor is truly an open question.
Of all the Game 7s I’ve watched, the one that I best remember – and still pains me - is 1971 Stanley Cup decider between the Habs & the Hawks. In my lifetime, the Chicago Black Hawks have reached the Stanley Cup Finals six times, winning only in 1961 when I was too young to remember. This 1971 Final (when I was 14) was one that all my friends thought the Hawks could win, even against mighty Montreal. This Hawks team was stacked from top to bottom with three solid attacking lines, strong and skilled defenders and a tremendous goaltender.
If ever the Hawks were going to stand up and beat the Habs it was going to be this year. Heck, Montreal had an Ivy League rookie goaltender (Ken Dryden) between the pipes and Al MacNeil was their coach. Not Toe Blake, not even Claude Ruel, Al MacNeil was their coach. Still, Montreal had forced a game 7 with wins at the Forum including a 4-3 win in Game 6. Now the action was going back to Chicago for Game 7 and we were ready to celebrate.
In those days, the television blackout rule was enforced by Bill Wirtz (Black Hawks owner) so we couldn’t watch the game on the local Chicago CBS television station. We had to play with the rabbit ears to try and pick up the South Bend or Milwaukee stations. So armed with a trusty radio & tinfoil for the antennas, we watched the fuzzy, snowy picture and hoped to “see” our Hawks lift the Cup.
Dennis Hull, and Danny O’Shea gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead and we leapt in joy when we heard that Bobby Hull beat Dryden with a shot but it caromed off the crossbar and the lead stayed at two. Then things started to fall apart midway through the second period. Jacques Lemaire scored on a shot that he launched from Berwyn (okay, it was just over the center line) and the “Pocket Rocket” Henri Richard faked Keith Magnuson out of his jock, went around him and put the equalizer past Tony Esposito. 2-2 with a period left to play.
In the third period, Richard went around a sprawling Magnuson a second time and made the score 3-2. Chances came for both teams as the clock ticked away. Then Jimmy Pappin had a shot at goal right on the Habs doorstep but the 8 foot 10 inch Ken Dryden (okay, 6’ 5”) stuck out his right leg and blocked the shot even as Pappin was raising his stick in celebration. It was not to be and the horn sounded. The Habs won the Cup again. We were crushed and sure that the Hawks would never win the Cup.
… and they haven’t. They were beaten in 1973 again by Montreal and in 1992 by Super Mario’s Penguins in their only Stanley Cup Final appearances since that memorable Game 7 in 1971. Sigh.
So now it’s 2009.
The Hawks avoided a Game 7 by defeating Calgary tonight 4-1 in game 6 to advance to the next round . Now we wait to see if Anaheim can oust the regular season point leader San Jose in their Game 6.
That would be the biggest possible upset in these playoffs as Anahem had the fewest points of all 16 playoff teams. At this point the Ducks lead San Jose 3-1 halfway through the 3rd period.
Upset in the making or a big comeback to force another Game 7. We shall see.